We're not going to lie to you, we were expecting relatively little from Crysis 3. The previous games, great looking and all as they were, always felt like they were lacking something in the narrative to make them feel like memorable gaming experience. Despite being a trope of many successful video games, there was just something about strapping ourselves into an almost indestructible bio-suit and doling out futuristic pain to hordes of alien (and human) antagonists. Ultimately, they felt a little hollow - free of any humanizing features and instead reliant on their pretty visuals to impress.
That has all conspired to make Crysis 3 a pleasant surprise. Despite now having the upgraded Nanosuit 2.0 and being more Ceph than human, Prophet, our protagonist, is arguably more human than ever. Aided by an unexpectedly strong narrative and a great supporting cast - particularly Michael Sykes, formerly known as Psycho, who, despite throwing a few strops here and there about being cut out of his own Nanosuit by CELL, acts as the perfect wing man for much of the game's seven mission campaign.
The differences don't stop there, either. Set 24 years after the events of the last game, the Ceph have been vanquished (initially, at least), and Prophet is awoken from stasis and liberated from CELL's grasp by a team of dissidents fighting to take down a CELL that has now grown to rule mankind by virtue of a seemingly endless supply of raw energy. With civilians running up massive debts to the corporation, they are soon put to work in order to pay off their massive debts, with little hope of ever clearing their dues. This hold CELL has over humanity is only a prelude to what's to come, however, as the Ceph make an expected return - although perhaps not in the way you might have expected.
The truth is that Crysis 3 is head and shoulders above the majority of first person sci-fi shooters when it comes to its narrative, even if things do feel telegraphed a little at times and the supposed twists rarely hit the spot (for the most part, there is a nicely unexpected plot element centred on Claire, the new leader of the fight against CELL and Psycho's hush-hush significant other). "Solid" would be the best way to describe things on the narrative front, but when packaged together with Crysis 3's genuinely impressive gameplay, it's a hell of a lot more impressive as a package than it perhaps has any right to be.
The gameplay has received sufficient tweakage to ensure it doesn't feel too familiar to series stalwarts, most notably when it comes to the functionality of the revamped Nanosuit. While some will be less than enamoured by the fact that Crytek has chosen to make things a little more accessible by removing the reliance on suit energy to run and jump, and instead utilize it exclusively for cloaking and shielding means, the end result is a much more well-rounded title.
The addition of a high tech bow and arrow (you'll know the one from the game's pre-launch publicity artwork and videos) also revitalizes gameplay thanks to the fact that Prophet can now manoeuvre his way around the game while cloaked, picking off enemies one by one with the silent bow without ever losing his invisibility - until your suit energy runs out, of course. There's nothing that makes you feel quite as badass in video gaming as stealthily stalking through an enemy infested level picking off enemies one by one before ducking into a darkened corner to recharge your energy and going again. It's majestic.
The streamlining of the Nanosuit's abilities does a lot more than just make you feel like the man, however, it also opens the game up to more play styles. We're rarely stealth players, but in Crysis 3 it's something that is handled particularly well. Never once does skulking around feel dull or repetitive, nor do you feel penalized for playing the game however you deem best, ultimately allowing the game to straddle that fine line between stealth and action that few managed to nail.
This is helped, too, by some excellent level design. While the overall game does feel a touch shorter than the last title, and by default many other shooters, the layout of each map ensures that there's plenty of replayability here for completionists and genre fans alike. With multiple routes through each location, both at ground level and vertically, each play through will yield a vastly different experience as players search for the various collectibles scattered throughout the game. This, of course, isn't a necessity, but it's likely that you'll at least find yourself curious as to how the game plays on alternate difficulties once you're done your first play.
That's something else that Crytek has nailed here, too. While the game's easy mode is a cakewalk (you can avoid combat in vast swathes of the campaign by using your cloaking mechanism cleverly), regular mode is an exceptionally well balanced affair offering mere mortals plenty of challenge, and crank it up to the more advanced challenge levels and you'll be playing a vastly different game with far more intelligent enemies and incredibly difficult Ceph foes to battle.
Regardless of what mode you choose though, easy aside, Crysis 3's AI remains continually impressive. It might not be best in class, but your enemies' routines are perfectly suited to the setting of each level, give or take, and throughout the game's six to seven hour campaign they'll offer you plenty of interesting challenges which you can opt to face head on, or through stealthier means.
This wouldn't be a review of a Crysis game without mentioning the visuals on show. While Crysis 2 was a damn fine looking game, it received a lot of flak from PC gamers who felt that its release on consoles was to blame for a dumbing down, of sorts, of their version's graphical fidelity - something that may have had some foundations in truth, but it wasn't exactly an ugly dog of a game. This time around there can be no such complaints; Crysis 3 is a beautiful experience whichever platform you play it on.
Obviously a high end PC will yield much crisper results, but even the ageing PS3 and Xbox 360 manage to impress, save for a few jerky vehicular based moments interspersed with the game's more traditional FPS action. Thankfully, these moments are fleeting and cause few problems in the grander scheme of things, certainly not getting in the way of how pretty the rest of the game is. If we had one qualm, however, it's the fact that too much of the action takes place at night. During daylight hours we really get to see the majesty of CryEngine 3, with the dilapidated and overgrown New York biosphere, the Liberty Dome, blowing us away with its clarity, vibrancy and impressive line of sight. Alas, these moment are all too few, but thankfully things look pretty tasty at night too, so there's no need to get yourself too down!
Overall, the single player Crysis 3 experience is a surprisingly great one. There's nice variety in the enemies with CELL taking centre stage early on before being replaced with the Ceph, and it's only the run up to the final showdown that feels a little repetitive, which is forgivable. At between six and seven hours in length, it's not the longest campaign in the world, but it certainly does fit in to the realms of acceptability, and there's plenty of replayability to be found here thanks to some excellent level design. There were a few moments where we found ourselves completely and utterly stumped as to where to go next, but persistence and a willingness to backtrack was enough to see us through in each case, so it's forgivable (but only just).
Ultimately, Crysis 3's campaign will enthral you, engage you, make you feel like a serious badass, and then have you coming back for more - something which can't be said for the vast majority of shooters in this day and age, sadly - but what of the title's multiplayer?
Crysis has never really been known for its multiplayer action, despite being more than up to the task of providing countless hours of entertainment, and e can't help but feel that the same will be said of Crysis 3's online component when we look back on it a few years from now. While it certainly ticks all the boxes, offering players a range of different gameplay modes, a perk system, loadouts and frantic gameplay, it seems to lack the immediacy of other, more established online FPS titles.
That's not to say it doesn't have its moments, though, particularly when it comes to the game's glorious Hunter mode. Given the fact that Crysis 3's online protagonists sport the same Nanosuit as Prophet in the single player campaign, it makes perfect sense that Crytek should find some way for it to be implemented within the multiplayer, and that's precisely where Hunter shows its strength. The initial setup sees two cloaked hunters taking on uncloaked CELL soldiers, controlled by the remainder of the players. While the odds may seem in favour of the uncloaked players, every time one of their numbers is killed, they become part of the hunters, resulting in some serious paranoia, twitchiness and intense action when only one or two uncloaked players remain.
The remainder of the game's online multiplayer modes are pretty much what we've come to expect, with all the usual suspects making an appearance in some way, shape or form across a range of different maps, each showcasing CryEngine 3's glorious visual capabilities in unique ways. From favourites like Capture the Flag getting the additional boost of the Nanosuit's capabilities, it manages to feel relatively fresh throughout, but whether or not it'll garner the kind of support from the online community that other shooters receive remains to be seen.
As a complete package, Crysis 3 is a blast from start to finish, and then from the start again. The replayability factor is not to be underestimated here, with countless hours of enjoyment to be gleaned from the title both in single player and online multiplayer modes. If 2013 has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start on the gaming front, Crysis 3 is the perfect antidote for the underwhelmed masses.